Daily Devotions are published Tuesday-Saturday during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Psalm 23 (ESV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 inspired Meggie Lineberger’s excellent April 18th devotion, but this psalm is in today’s daily lectionary, and is certainly worth another look as our collective attention turns to God for comfort in this dark time. As you read the psalm, think about the fact that, as pointed out by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hanged by the Nazi regime in 1945), you are reading the same words that Jesus read 2,000 years ago, words inspired by God in David 3,000 years ago.
Scholars believe David composed Psalm 23 during some of his darkest days while he awaited the outcome of the civil war caused by his son Absalom’s rebellion. And it is in such dark times of grief, fear, and uncertainty that we turn toward God and to Psalm 23 for comfort and courage. During WWII President Roosevelt included the entire 23rd Psalm in his 1942 Thanksgiving Day proclamation. On September 11, 2001, Psalm 23 was recited by passengers aboard Flight 93 before they charged the cockpit, and was quoted by President Bush in his speech later that day. Psalm 23 is read during many Jewish and Christian funerals.
We are in a dark time now. We fear a viral enemy we cannot see, cannot control, and do not fully understand. We are discouraged – dashed are our expectations of harvested crops, employment, traditional graduations, athletic events, being with grandchildren, and healthy lives.
In such dark times we are humbled by the reality that we are not as independent and in control of our lives as we thought we were. This brings to my mind how farmers, my grandparents, and others append “Lord willing” to any statement of their plans, perhaps from life experience or maybe in reference to James 4:14.
Sometimes it takes grief, fear, and uncertainty to interrupt our daily distractions and turn our attention toward David’s shepherd. Kevin Barry, my good friend who died battling cancer, in his article “The Gift of Cancer” described how his diagnosis captured his attention, led him to live more in the present moment and closer to God, and to realize that what happens to us is less important than how we respond.
The psalm does not promise us that we and our loved ones won’t suffer pain, contract COVID-19, or die from it. We need not fear those tragedies if we look to God as our shepherd and stay close to Him. To me, Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book The Lord is My Shepherd, captures the essence of Psalm 23: “God does not, God cannot promise us happy endings in a world where laws of nature and human cruelty take their daily toll. God’s promise is not that we will be safe, but that we will never be alone.”
God, help me understand the abundance of Your love, and realize that You are with me always. Amen
Interview with Francis Collins NIH Director, The Atlantic, 3/17/2020. Toward the end, Dr Collins talks about his Christian faith. I highly recommend his book, The Language of God.
“I know the psalm but he knows the shepherd” A touching story
The Lord is My Shepherd, sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Psalm 23 sung by Covenant Christian High School choir, Grand Rapids, MI
The Lord’s My Shepherd by Stuart Townsend
Wisdom for My Children: Reflections on the ultimate gift, by Kevin Barry, America, 3/31/2008